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Go to the center ring

The Board of County Commissioners and the powers that be at Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation district have experienced friction of late — “friction” being a polite way of saying “conflict.”

The bones of contention that surface have been the BoCC’s demands for documents and data, the county’s analysis of said records and PAWSD decisions, and the inability of the two groups to find a way to meet in public to discuss positions and differences.

Those on both sides have expressed frustration, in public and in private.

Both entities can make good arguments for some of what they claim; and both are at fault for making the friction greater than it need be.

In brief, the BoCC is concerned about the cost of the Dry Gulch Reservoir project, the possible exhaustion of capital in the county, debt, and the fees, potential exorbitant rate hikes and other possible methods that could be used to repay that debt.

The BoCC is not alone in their concerns about Dry Gulch. There are many people in Pagosa Country who opposed the reservoir project from its inception, claiming, among other things, that other sites could have worked better, at less cost; that the cost of the Dry Gulch project has been inflated due to location (and what that location requires in terms of pumping, etc.) and by what many believe is too high a payment for the land involved. All along, many have stood against the project taking one side of a “chicken-or-egg” argument: Does growth require the water, or does the water prompt the growth? They believe the notion that the reservoir must be built to serve inevitable growth is upside down. Instead, they state, the “inevitable” (and to them undesirably high) growth should be controlled by limiting the amount of water available, capping the local permanent population at an acceptable level.

Regardless, the project got underway, and did so on the basis of PAWSD polling that revealed a desire on the part of district residents to ensure adequate water supplies in a maximum growth scenario.

With all this in mind, the county has the legal right to look into PAWSD’s dealings and plans, and PAWSD is willing to accommodate the county, providing documents when possible. The county has been somewhat heavy-handed in demanding material, when simple requests would have sufficed. PAWSD is not reluctant to open its records.

The question we ask the BoCC: Where have you been all along in this process? Dry Gulch planning has been taking place for years. There is a history of public meetings and hearings. You were not there. Now that the land has been purchased and the district is well underway, the BoCC steps in with its concerns. Granted, the previous commission was inept, and the current BoCC is obligated to voice its concerns — but where were our elected officials when an objection could have played out in a better scenario? Given the BoCC’s recent action in the town skatepark situation, it seems 11th-hour moves have become comfortable for this board.

As for PAWSD: Why refuse to meet with the BoCC in public at any location other than the district office? Worries have been voiced about a meeting in a larger venue — about a “circus” atmosphere taking hold when a large number of people attend a meeting.

Excuse us, but we remember that PAWSD board members serve as elected public officials. We remember that PAWSD spends public money and can heap debt on the taxpayer. At the very least, any meeting concerning a topic as important as the reservoir project should accommodate as many spectators as possible. Meet anywhere, at any time. If it is to be a circus, step into the center ring.

Boards should do business in the open, and try to do so with as little acrimony as possible. There’s too much of that going around already.

Karl Isberg